Crossover & Midsize

The Land Rover Defender Is Refined on and off the Road

They may be maintenance nightmares, but few vehicles combine off-road capability with luxuries like Land Rover’s crossovers and SUVs. That’s true even of the stylish—but expensiveRange Rover Evoque and Velar. However, it’s the newly-resurrected Land Rover Defender which arguably best captures the brand’s off-road spirit. But does it work as well on paved roads as it does off of them?

2020 Land Rover Defender: specs and features

2020 Land Rover Defender 110
2020 Land Rover Defender 110 | Land Rover

Like the original, the 2020 Land Rover Defender comes in 2 body styles: 2-door 90 and 4-door 110. However, while the original Defender was a four-wheel-drive body-on-frame SUV, the new one is technically an all-wheel-drive unibody crossover.

That being said, it’s permanent AWD, Car and Driver reports, with 2 locking differentials and a 2-speed transfer case. And instead of solid axles, it has fully-independent suspension.

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The new Land Rover Defender’s powertrains are also a bit more advanced. In the US, the original’s most powerful engine was a 182-hp V8. In contrast, the base 2020 Defender has a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder, rated at 296 hp and 295 lb-ft, Autoblog reports. There’s also a mild-hybrid option, which features a 3.0-liter six-cylinder with a turbocharger and an electric supercharger. With that, it delivers 395 hp and 406 lb-ft, Motor Trend reports. Both engines are hooked up to 8-speed automatics.

In terms of off-road-ability, the 2020 Land Rover Defender can definitely hang with the original. It has more ground clearance, a better departure angle, and almost twice the wading depth, Car and Driver reports.

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The 2020 Defender’s suspension articulation isn’t quite on the Jeep Wrangler’s level, Roadshow reports. But with Land Rover’s adjustable Terrain Response system, off-road cruise control, and hill-descent control, the Defender’s well-equipped for the wild. It even has multiple low-mounted cameras feeding into the infotainment screen for obstacle-spotting.

And if you want to venture further out, the Land Rover Defender has a few additional accessories. Besides adjustable air suspension, buyers can add a Warn winch, off-road tires, a roof rack, a side-mounted ladder, and a snorkel.

Can the Land Rover Defender tackle both the urban jungle, too?

Land Rover’s re-invention of the Defender, though, was less about improving off-road capability, and more about on-road civility. But has it worked? YouTube team Throttle House wanted to find out.

An interior shot of the 2020 Land Rover Defender 110
2020 Land Rover Defender 110 interior | Land Rover

In terms of technology and features, the 2020 Defender certainly offers more. It has a 10” central touchscreen, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, GPS navigation, and a Wi-Fi hotspot. It also has 2 onboard modems, Car and Driver reports, for over-the-air updates. Lane-keeping assist is standard, as is automatic emergency braking; adaptive cruise control is optional. The original Defender barely had climate control.

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On paved roads, the new Land Rover Defender is significantly more refined than the old one. The ride is comfier, the cabin is quieter, and the interior materials are higher-quality. Even the base model comes with a magnesium spar across the dash, which also functions as a storage space. With the air suspension, it does sway a bit in corners. But it’s more controllable than, say, a G-Wagon. And the seats are genuinely all-day comfortable, MT reports.

2019 Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro vs. 2019 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon
2019 Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro vs. 2019 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon | Throttle House via YouTube

Overall, the new Land Rover Defender is the old one what the Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro is to the Jeep Wrangler Rubicon. The classic Defender feels a bit more special, a bit more rugged. But the new one has the same off-road chops with better daily driving civility.

How the competition compares

To be fair, the 2020 Land Rover Defender isn’t perfect. Car and Driver reports the brake-by-wire system is a bit touchy. And the pre-production models tested in Africa by numerous publications all experienced some minor electrical glitches.

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As of this writing, the base Defender 90 is not available in the US. But the base Defender 110 starts at $49,900. The mild-hybrid model, though, starts at $62,250. And if you want a civil crossover which can tackle off-road trails, there are other options to choose from.

blue 4-door 2021 Ford Bronco Sport parked in grass on off-roading trail
2021 Ford Bronco Sport | Ford

The most prominent is the 2021 Ford Bronco Sport. True, even the most powerful Bronco Sport is about 50 hp down compared to the base Defender. It also has about 3” less ground clearance. However, it weighs about 1000 pounds less and has a starting price of about $28,000. Plus, it offers 2 different AWD options, a limited-slip rear differential, and an optional interior bike rack.

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